Wine

By Kaury Baucom, Viticulture & Enology

RICHLAND, Wash. – Connor Eck, a senior at Washington State University Tri-Cities originally from Del Mar, Calif., has been named a national Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, a Boston-based nonprofit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education.

The fellowship provides learning and networking opportunities to teach students leadership and how to bring communities together for positive change. As a student winemaker in WSU’s Blended Learning program, Eck worked with local growers and winemakers to develop leadership skills, gain hands-on experience and exercise environmentally friendly winemaking practices.

“I aim to find a way to limit the amount of water used in the farming of grapes and during the winemaking process, while still producing a high-quality product,” he said.

“The cultivation of community-committed leaders has never been more crucial,” said Andrew Seligsohn, Campus Compact president. “Our country needs more people who know how to bring communities together.”

The fellowship, named for Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, chose 273 students for the 2017 cohort. It is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.
News media contact:
Kaury Balcom, WSU viticulture and enology communications, 509-327-7223, kaury.balcom@wsu.edu

For Nick French and Robb Zimmel, a career in wine science made sense following their military experiences.

For French, currently a junior majoring in viticulture, the decision to pursue a degree in the viticulture and enology field from WSU Tri-Cities came after serving five years with the United States Air Force. He spent three years on active duty stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, where he served as a crew chief on KC-135 Stratotankers and the other two years with the Washington State Air National Guard.

“While I was stationed in Kansas, I noticed that most of my favorite wines and wine selections were from this area, and, of course, California,” he said. “As a husband and father, I had to choose a degree that would be suitable to living near family in Washington.”

From the Air Force to viticulture

French said after hearing stories of the emerging wine industry in Washington and witnessing the construction of the Ste. Michelle Estates WSU Wine Science Center on the WSU Tri-Cities campus, it was a “no brainer” deciding to pursue a degree in viticulture and enology.

French enrolled as a student at WSU Tri-Cities a few years ago while keeping up with his former military life through involvement with the Veterans Office on campus. Now a junior, he serves as the vet corps navigator for the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs on campus while completing his degree. His courses and connections at WSU have led to a variety of experiences in viticulture, his primary interest.

“Last summer, I interned with the viticulture department at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and had a great experience,” he said. “I really enjoy being outdoors and working with the grape vines. Combining modern technology with pest and disease management has been really intriguing to me.”

“I had seen things that couldn’t be unseen. I had to have a career change.”

For Zimmel, who graduated from WSU Tri-Cities in 2014, the decision to pursue a career in winemaking came after he realized that, while he was grateful for his years in the U.S. Army Reserves, his job put too much stress and strain on him and his family.

For most of his career and through the present, Zimmel has served as a detachment sergeant for a small forward surgical team. Prior to this, he served as a line medic from 1991 to 1998, which gave him the foundation to serve as a paramedic as a civilian. He also served as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson in South Carolina until he was called overseas to Afghanistan in 2006-2008, and then to Iraq in 2009-2010.

“It wasn’t until I was in Iraq that I called my wife on a satellite phone in a wind-torn tent and explained to her that I had seen things that couldn’t be unseen,” he said. “I knew I had to have a career change. I didn’t want to go back to the medical field.”

Zimmel’s wife suggested that he look into winemaking as a career, considering he has expressed an interest in doing before. Zimmel said he knew he didn’t have the resources to attend University of California Davis, which offered a comprehensive degree in viticulture and enology.

“Later, it was my wife that made the discovery that WSU had a program and a plan soon began to be made,” he said.

Zimmel began taking courses first at WSU Vancouver in viticulture and enology, before transferring to WSU Tri-Cities to complete his full degree in 2014. He was in one of the first “Blended Learning” classes, which made a complete batch of wine from vine to bottle.

“When I started, I had no background in viticulture and enology,” he said. “I did, however, enjoy wine and always wanted to know more about it. I had the opportunity to travel a lot with the military and I fell in love with the Riesling in Germany, Sauv blancs in New Zealand. I’ve had horrible reds from the eastern block of Russia and incredible wines from the northern part of Italy.”

Forever a veteran

Even though both Zimmel and French are pursuing new passions after military careers, they said they will always cherish their time in the military and they even use their experiences as they can be applied to careers in viticulture and enology.

Zimmel has since started his own wine label, “Cerebella” under his winery name “Zimmel Unruh Cellars,” which released in summer 2015. In doing so, he said he’s using many traits and lessons from his career in the military.

Those include the fact that he knows he’s not the smartest person in the room, that burning bridges wastes time and energy, and that he can work with strangers to accomplish goals.

French said he respects and values his time in the military and continues using the skills he developed, such as leadership, work ethic and persistence, as he pursues his degree and moves into his future in viticulture.
Read more about Robb Zimmel here.

Zimmel-1 Zimmel-2 Zimmel-3

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Robb Zimmel remembers as a child watching his German relatives create concoctions from grapes and beets, onions and rhubarb. It wasn’t a stew, though, but wine that was cooked, bottled, capped with balloons and left to ferment.

“The balloons would get bigger and bigger,” said Zimmel, a Washington State University Tri-Cities graduate. “As soon as they deflated, my grandma would say ‘it is time’ and they would gather to finish the winemaking process.”

Since that early age, he has been comforted by the memory of winemaking, inspired by some of the most beautiful women in his life. This summer, he will release wines on his own label after graduating as part of WSU Tri-Cities’ first blended learning classes last year.

“I fell in love with that process, that romance, that wonderful feeling that came with making wine,” he said.

Education ‘changed my life’

While pursuing a full-time career as a flight paramedic in Portland, Ore., Zimmel followed his family’s example and made wine on the side. But after Sept. 11, 2001, he was called from the U.S. Army Reserves to serve overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He remembers calling his wife late one night in 2010 on a satellite phone from the middle of the desert: “I can’t do this anymore,” he said. She asked if he would be interested in putting his wine experience to use as a new career.

The day he got back to the United States, he headed to the WSU Vancouver campus where he studied for two years before transferring to WSU Tri-Cities to complete his degree in viticulture and enology.

“At WSU, I’ve studied with some of the nation’s best wine professors and worked with alumni who have studied all over the world,” he said. “My education at WSU changed my life.”

Winning ways … and wines

A little more than a year ago, Zimmel was recommended for a position in the tasting room at Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland by friend and fellow WSU viticulture and enology graduate Joel Perez.

Zimmel credits owners Deborah Barnard and Rob Griffin and their daughters Elise Jackson and Megan Hughes for his growth as a winemaker. Griffin would often invite him to bring in wine he made to be tasted and refined.

“Why would they go out of their way to help me?” Zimmel said. “But that’s just how they are. They are the most giving family I’ve ever met.”

“I’ve always been interested in the education part of the wine industry,” Griffin said. “I do it because I want the Washington wine industry to be great. If Washington wins, we all win.”

Embraced by family of vintners

With the support of the Barnard Griffin family and WSU, Zimmel said, he created the first batch of wine on his label, Cerebella. The name refers to a part of the brain and is a tie to his former career in the medical field.

He created 500 cases of wine in four varietals including a riesling, chardonnay, merlot and malbec. They will be available for purchase this summer.

To preorder or arrange a tasting, contact him through his Facebook page, Zimmel Unruh Cellars, athttps://www.facebook.com/ZimmelUnruhCellars.

“I just can’t believe that day has finally come,” Zimmel said. “I’m a winemaker, and I owe it all to the people who have helped me along the way. It’s a dream come true. It really is.”